Ardern’s difficult week

Jacinda Ardern has experienced the highs of politics, rescuing the Labour Party from political oblivion and becoming Prime Minister are just a couple. She also revelled in attention at Waitangi for a week in early February, and spent last week being applauded and praised on a tour around the South Pacific.

This week was at the other end of the scale though.

It would have been very challenging for her, to say the least. As well as relatively minor  but embarrassing stories about Ministers – Jenny Salesa’s big spending on travel and Ron Mark’s use of Defence Force helicopters and planes as ministerial taxis – there have been major issues, the Young Labour summer camp fiasco, and dealing with Winston Peters and Russia.

Ardern has copped a lot of flak, but some of the media have still been easy on her while blasting others in Labour.

Stuff’s Below the Beltway: A week in politics


The Labour Party:The Labour Party undoubtedly dropped the ball in its handling of the alleged sexual assault incidents at last month’s Young Labour summer camp. Four 16-year-olds were allegedly sexually assaulted by a 20-year-old Young Labour supporter. There have since been further allegations of sexual assault and misconduct at past Young Labour events. As well as leaving Young Labour to run the camp, where alcohol was available to underage attendees, the party was then slow to deal with the incident, and to offer support to the victims. The prime minister, who was kept out of the loop until media uncovered the incident, admitted the party failed the victims, and has ordered an independent inquiry, and a full review of the party’s processes.

But Ardern hasn’t escaped criticism.

Tracy Watkins goes easy in Jacinda Ardern has political capital to burn but Labour shouldn’t squander it

Did Labour learn nothing from nine frustrating years in Opposition up against the hugely popular John Key?

If crisis management is how we judge our prime ministers Ardern’s handling of Labour’s Waihi camp scandal is text book.

She has apologised to the young people involved, acknowledged Labour’s failure of care and put a process in place to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

But she has had to burn up some of her precious political capital making up for the party’s shambolic response to allegations that four young people were sexually assaulted during the boozy Young Labour event.

I wouldn’t call her handling text book at all. The story broke on Monday. Ardern didn’t front up on it until Wednesday, and she has given party officials a pass on their inept handling of it.

The bigger failing, of course, was letting down the young people in its care by its failure to act.

But there is a political price to pay for that, as well as a personal one.

Labour might think it can keep calling on the bank of Jacinda Ardern. But her political capital will not be limitless – and it wants to be careful it doesn’t squander it just because it can.

Despite Watkin’s tip toeing Ardern’s ‘political capital’ has taken a hit over this.

Duncan Garner: Labour president should walk the plank over ‘gobsmackingly incompetent’ handling of camp saga

It had to end some time. The golden glow and constant smile were never going to stretch through an alleged sex scandal involving young people and booze.

Honeymoons simply can’t go on forever, and Jacinda Ardern will surely be reflecting on that as she grabs an organic latte from Mt Albert’s local markets this weekend.

New prime ministers always hope their political honeymoon will stretch on and on, but in this business there’s always an idiot lurking around the corner. Most of the time he or she is in your camp.

Unbelievably … and somehow we have to believe this, no one told the PM. That needs to change in future. Information is power. Ardern needs to know everything. She looked like a startled possum in the headlights this week. Don’t surprise your prime minister with the cameras rolling.

And her condemnation of Labour was weak too.

But there is one crucial thing they really needed to do. Labour should have told the parents of the alleged victims. If I was the father I’d be furious. But apparently the victim has that right to privacy. The parents deserved to know to help make the best decision for their teenager.

The gloss came off the Labour Party this week.

And some of the gloss came off Ardern.

Audrey Young: A week Jacinda Ardern will want to forget

I disagree with the headline – if Ardern wants to learn from this week she needs to remember the mistakes.

The past week has been the worst for Jacinda Ardern since she became Prime Minister.

That may be more of a reflection of how many excellent weeks she has had than necessarily how terrible it has been.

It has not been a disaster, and there will definitely be worse to come. But it has been a mess.

She has had to deal with two very different and vexed issues of political management: the Labour Party’s handling of indecent assaults on young people at its summer camp, and her deputy and coalition partner beginning to flex his muscles as Foreign Minister.

The Labour camp issue is highly embarrassing for Labour and for Ardern, but both should survive it – it is now in it’s tidy up phase.

But the Winston Peters issue is more problematic politically. This week Ardern was slow to respond on it as well.

The summer school episode was eventually contained. Dealing with the Peters problem is more difficult. Being in a second season as foreign minister under a Prime Minister who is not seasoned in Foreign Affairs, he is being less guarded in what he says than he was in the 2005 – 2008 under Clark.

He seems to have forgotten the maxim that the Prime Minister is always the real foreign minister and that together they have to present a seamless face to the world and to the public. There should not be an iota of difference between their intention, their messages and their tone.

But Peters has raised eyebrows not just domestically over comments on Newshub’s The Nation programme.

He criticised the EU when it is on the brink of launching free trade negotiations with New Zealand, showed empathy towards Donald Trump’s new tariffs on steel and aluminium, and showed sympathy to Russia over accusations of downing MH17.

His off-the-cuff comments on MH17 drew criticism from Australian Labor MP Penny Wong and former Prime Minister Tony Abbott as well as the National opposition and an editorial in The Australian newspaper.

Ardern has been left this week having to defend what he said and what he meant, because his own clarifications have been anything but clarifying. Words matter, as Peters is fond of saying.

Ardern herself weighed into the backing-Britain issue on Friday with more appropriate criticism levelled towards Russia.

It was messy week but she finally got to where she needed to be – in control.

Eventually, sort of, in control, maybe.

The Russia problem is unlikely to go away quickly.

If Peters has conceded that a trade deal with Russia won’t be a big legacy achievement for him, will he be looking for something else to promote? Will that also clash with Government policies?

In a few months Ardern will take six weeks (corrected) maternity leave. A Government should be able to manage that without any problems.

If Helen Clark had had to take time out Michael Cullen would probably have stepped up virtually seamlessly.

John Key took permanent time out and Bill English stepped up without a hiccup, it was business as usual for the National led government.

But this week has shown a potential weakness in the current party power sharing arrangement. Ardern was slow but eventually stepped up and took over the Russian issue from Peters.

What if something crops up while Ardern is on leave and as acting PM Peters promotes his own agenda rather than the Government’s? Ardern will still be Prime Minister, but it will be far more noticeable if she needs to step out of the nursery and step in over the top of Peters again.

Peters always looked like one of the biggest risks for the Labour-NZ First-Green government. This week reinforced concerns about that.

The problem is not just a clash between what Peters wants and what the Government and country needs – Peters has done some damage to New Zealand internationally, which is bad enough.

What we are yet to see is how Peters will react if Ardern keeps overriding him.

How will he handle things as acting PM if a young mother puts the nappies down to tidy up another Peters botch-up?

The Labour camp issue is now in the hands of the police and nothing like that is likely to happen again.

The potential for Winston problems is ongoing, in a challenging time for Ardern, when she will be somewhat distracted.

An added problem is that Labour don’t have a 2IC ready to step up, Kelvin Davis looks nothing like a strong deputy leader. Grant Robertson is sidelined in Finance. It would raise eyebrows and likely cause friction if David Parker has to step in and clash with Peters.

This has been a difficult week for Ardern for sure, but every week is potentially difficult for a Prime Minister. There will be more to come, including while Peters is in charge.